How Are Salaries Determined for Social Workers?

Many individuals not in the social work career field automatically assume that social workers don’t make a viable income. While this can be true in some entry-level positions, many variables decide exactly how much a social worker will make, including social work education, social work licensure, specialization, and location.

Salary by Experience, Degree, and Licensure

One of the primary ways someone employed in social work can determine how much they will make is by their degree level and whether or not they’re licensed. These distinctions decide whether or not an individual can be called a “social worker” or not. In the majority of states, those who don’t have a Master of Social Work (MSW) or higher cannot be licensed and, therefore, cannot be called a social worker. Generally speaking, entry-level social work positions pay an average of $68,477 per year. In most cases, Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) graduates will earn a salary in this general ballpark.

Once you’ve earned your MSW and become licensed, you can expect a slightly higher pay. According to the same source, you can expect an average of $93,727 once you’ve become licensed and slightly more if you’ve earned a doctorate of social work degree.

Find out How to Become a Social Worker.

Salary by Specialty

One of the great things about MSW programs and social work graduate certificates is that they often offer a variety of specializations. Depending on which one you pick, you may make more than if you had chosen to get a generalized practice degree. Here are a few examples of the differences in pay when it comes to social work specializations.

Salary by Employer Type

Securing higher pay doesn’t just depend on what type of social worker you are; it also depends on where you work as a social worker. In most cases, working in a private practice will allow you to choose exactly how much you make, but there are many high-paying options if you decide to work in:

  • Mental health facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Government agencies

Salary by Location

As with many other types of occupations, some areas pay social workers better than others, especially if there’s a higher-than-average need for social workers and not enough professionals in the area to fill the demand. Here are the top five states for social worker salaries according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • District of Columbia – $94,250
  • New Hampshire – $93,910
  • Rhode Island – $93,520
  • Oklahoma – $91,090
  • Washington – $90,580

Social Worker Job Outlook & Employment Projections

According to the BLS, there isn’t a better time to become a social worker. The social work field is projected to grow around 7% between 2023 and 2032. Because there is plenty of room for social workers to advance in the field, this translates favorably to social work salaries.

Social Worker vs. Psychologist vs. Counselor: Which Salary is Right for You?

To get a sense of how a social worker’s pay compares to other mental health professionals’ wages, such as psychologist salaries and counselor salaries, check out the table below:

Social WorkerPsychologistCounselor
Median Annual Wage$55,350$81,040$45,160
Highest Paying IndustryPrivate PracticeIndustrial-Organizational PsychologistMarriage Counselor
Top Paying StateD.C.CaliforniaNew Jersey
Job Growth Outlook7%19%10%
*Based on 2021 data
Tara Moretti, LMHC
Share This: